Performance and Operational Challenges in Operating a Carbon Neutral and NZE Lab Part 2: Owner's Perspective - J. Craig Venter Institute Case Study

Yann Palmore, Pristine Environments
John McDonald, Integral Group

OWNER PERSPECTIVE: J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) is a not-for-profit research institute located in La Jolla, California and Rockville, Maryland. Originally conceived in 2005 to co-locate several research units into one facility located on the University of San Diego (UCSD) La Jolla campus, the building was designed to embody the goals and philosophies of JCVI research and by extension, therefore the larger goals of being a Carbon Neutral and Net Zero Energy laboratory facility.

JCVI was designed to achieve LEED Platinum and a net zero energy footprint on an annualized basis. To reach this goal, a holistic approach to the building was needed to allow for optimization of all building systems. Building orientation and shading elements were incorporated to maximize daylight, while minimizing lighting loads, heat gain, and glare. Mechanical systems were designed, not only for high levels of efficiency, but for interconnection to allow waste heating or cooling to be captured and reused in other systems. The heart of the mechanical plant is the two 25,000 Gal thermal storage tanks, which are charged most of the year for cooling by the use of cooling towers in lieu of a standard chiller plant commonly found in lab facilities. To further minimize cooling loads, abundant use of natural ventilation was incorporated into the office / research wing as well as the below grade parking garage.

To maximize water efficiency, rainwater, from both site and roof, as well as the air handler condensate is captured and reused for cooling tower make-up, toilet filling and hose bibb use. Combined with low flow fixtures is planned to realize a 70% decrease in water consumption compared to a standard lab. While the majority of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems are comprised of standard system elements, chilllers, cooling towers, pumps, etc, the application of these components in novel ways presented construction, commissioning, and operational challenges that the project team needed to address.

The focus of this presentation will be reviewing the project intent, the application of these systems, the challenges and resolutions implemented to build, commission, and operate what may well be the first carbon neutral and net zero energy biological lab. Lessons learned from design assumptions verses site conditions as well as the predicted energy consumption anticipated during the design phase, with the actual energy and water performance to date.

Learning Objectives

  • Lessons learned from a "world's first" project delivery team.
  • ZNE building commissioning requires a different approach; one that extends well past occupancy.
  • Advanced building technologies are changing traditional construction models. IP networks are increasingly becoming and important aspect of project success.
  • ZNE Facilities are not only changing the way we think about design and construction, but also building operations. Traditional O&M programs do not translate to high performance building systems.


Prior to founding Sustainable SoCal, Inc. and leading the firm as President, Yann Palmore was the Director of Operations for J. Craig Venter Institute. Here, he worked closely with JCVI's executive management to identify an architect and begin planning for their new facility in La Jolla, CA. Since 2010, Mr. Palmore has overseen the project as Construction Manager and Owner's Representative for JCVI.

Today, Yann is Pristine Environments' CSO and leads the company's Building Intelligence group.


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